Posted tagged ‘Rural Life’

Burnout

July 14, 2012

The Rural Ministry Blog is currently exploring the fact that every month 1,500 pastors leave the ministry due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention within the church.  A recent article by Perry Noble stated “90% of the people that enter the ministry do not retire from the ministry.  They either quit or have some sort of moral/ethical failure that disqualifies them.”  In my opinion these statistics are frightening!  At no other time in history do we need effective pastors teaching and training their people, and yet we seem to be dropping like flies.  All of us entered the ministry desiring to not only retire from it, but to finish strong.  Yet if these statistics are correct, only 1 out of 10 of us will.  I don’t know about you, but I want to do everything I can to make sure that I’m not one of the 90%.

In my last two articles, I covered the topic of moral failure. Today I want to take a look at burnout.  The first step in dealing with burnout is defining the term.  One of the best definitions I have read is from the website helpguide.org:

Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest or motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.

Burnout reduces your productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give.

Most of us have days when we feel bored, overloaded, or unappreciated; when the dozen balls we keep in the air aren’t noticed, let alone rewarded; when dragging ourselves out of bed requires the determination of Hercules. If you feel like this most of the time, however, you may be flirting with burnout. (source)

Because burnout is such a huge issue for those of us in the ministry it is absolutely imperative that we come up with a strategy to make sure it doesn’t happen to us.  Here are some tips:

Know your limitations. Let me give you an analogy to explain what I mean. I drive a Dodge Dakota truck that I am confident would go 100mph should I ever feel inclined to drive that fast.  However, if I was on a coast to coast journey and tried to go 100mph the entire trip, I am certain that my truck would break down long before I reached my destination.  Why? Because my truck is not designed to travel at that rate of speed for that length of time.  Our bodies are very similar.  God designed our bodies to be able to go “pedal to the metal” occasionally for brief periods of time. But if we try to live our lives “pedal to the metal” all the time we will find ourselves in a world of hurt mentally, physically, and spiritually. We need to understand our limitations and live within them if we want to avoid burnout. Just because Pastor So-and-so can work two outside jobs, pastor a church, lead three home groups, and survive on five hours of sleep a night, doesn’t mean that you can.

Learn how to say no.  Leadership expert John Maxwell said it this way, “If you can’t say no, your yeses mean less.”  Consistently over-committing yourself is just asking for trouble.  I must admit that this is a huge area of weakness for me.  I love helping people, and therefore hate saying no.  However, I realized a long time ago that I cannot do everything, and when I try to do everything my stress levels rise and my work quality tanks.  I’ve often had to say no to things that are very worthwhile endeavors to make sure I have enough time to do the things God has called me to do.

Take time for yourself.  All throughout the Gospels we see instances of Jesus leaving the crowds and going off by Himself to pray.  I am positive that there were people in those crowds that needed healing and deliverance, and the crowd certainly needed to hear the message that Jesus had. There was lots of ministry that needed to be done, yet Jesus left the crowds and went off by Himself to get alone with God.  If Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, the omnipotent, omniscient God come in the flesh, needed to leave the demands of ministry to go off by Himself, then so do we.

By the way, this time should not happen on a day off – it should be scheduled ahead of time and should be part of your normal work routine.  I schedule one day of solitude per month in addition to my normal days off.  Why do I do this?  Because a day off is generally when we catch up on all the things that need to be done in our personal lives.  So even though it’s called a day off, it’s not a day for rest and reflection.  By scheduling in a day of solitude, it allows me to get the time I need to relax and reflect spiritually.

Unplug. Take some time to disconnect from your cell phone, e-mail, twitter, facebook, etc.  Despite what some people in your church may feel, you do not have to be available 24/7.  I know that some of you are thinking “but what if they have an emergency?”  Let’s be honest about that for a moment; how many of these “emergencies” are real emergencies?  Yes, the issue is important to the person calling, but in the majority of cases it can easily wait for a few hours.  Set your cell phone voicemail and e-mail autoresponder to tell people that you will be unavailable and give them contact information for the person they should talk to in your absence.

I think all of us would agree that burnout is a very real problem that we cannot ignore if we wish to finish the task we’ve been called to.  While researching this topic I ran across several good articles that explore the issue further.  Here are the links:

Preventing Burnout: Signs, Symptoms, Causes, & Coping Strategies

True & False Burnout: Are You Deceived?

Are You Headed for a Ministry Burnout?

7 Tips to Avoid Burnout

How about you? Have you ever experienced, or are you currently in, a state of burnout? How did it affect you and your ministry? Leave a comment below

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Rural Resource – 20 Things That Might Be Killing Your Church

June 7, 2012

The Rural Ministry Blog’s Rural Resource is where I post a book review, article link, website link, video, or any other type of resource that I think would be of interest to the Rural Ministry community.

Today’s Rural Resource is an excellent article by George Bullard entitled 20 Things That Might Be Killing Your Church.  In this article George gives an interesting analogy comparing the life cycles of people with the life cycle of a church.  He then goes on to list 20 things that could easily either kill, or at least severely cripple, your church.

I must admit that as I was reading the article I kept asking myself “Is this true for my church?” I think this is a question that all of us must honestly and objectively ask ourselves. It’s easy to believe that everything at our church is just fine, but reality can be very different. After reading the article I sent a link to several of my church leaders and asked them if they saw any of the items listed at our church. One leader responded; “This was very good. Let me think about how it applies to us. But I do believe every church struggles with a number of these issues if they are honest.

Here’s a link to the article

20 Things That Might Be Killing Your Church

What are your thoughts on this article? Did anything in particular stand out to you? Can you think of anything else that should be on the list? Leave a comment below.

Disclaimer: The resources mentioned on the Rural Ministry Blog are things that I feel contain content relevant to the Rural Ministry community.  This does not necessarily mean that I fully embrace or support everything that the author embraces or supports.  For more information on this topic please read this Rural Ministry blog post – Eat the Meat and Spit Out the Bones

Moral Failure part 2

June 4, 2012

The Rural Ministry Blog is currently exploring the fact that every month 1,500 pastors leave the ministry due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention within the church. In my last post we looked at moral failure, specifically moral failure as it relates to adultery.  Today I want to continue the topic of moral failure, but the area in which I want to focus is one that will be uncomfortable for many of you – pornography. XXX Church, one of the nation’s leading organizations dedicated to helping people overcome pornography addictions, calls porn “the elephant in the pew.”  It’s a huge issue, we know it’s there, but we refuse to acknowledge it.

One of the biggest issues with pornography today is the ease of access.  It used to be that you had to go to a store and risk getting caught to obtain porn, but today it’s as close, and as private, as your nearest Internet connection.  It is estimated that there are over 4.2 million pornographic websites, which means that porn makes up about 12% of all websites.  The effects of this are hard to ignore – 42.7% of all Internet users admit to viewing pornography.  53% of Promise Keeper men admitted to viewing pornography within the last week, and 47% of Christians state that pornography is a problem in the home.  On top of that, a survey done in 2002 showed that 30% of all pastors admitted to viewing pornography within the last 30 days.

Not only are pastors not immune to the dangers of porn, I would go so far as to say that pastors are in more danger than the average person.  Why do I say that?  Think about it for a minute.  1 Peter 5:8 tells us that the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  If the devil could get the average person to stumble with pornography, there would be maybe a dozen or so lives affected (spouse, children, close friends, etc).  However, if a pastor falls in the area of pornography, there are literally hundreds of lives affected (spouse, children, close friends, congregation, community, etc.).  If you were the devil, where would you concentrate your efforts?

It’s obvious that porn is a problem, but how do we as pastors deal with it in our personal lives?  I don’t claim to have all the answers, but here are some suggestions to start with.

1. Stop making excuses – If we are making excuses, then we do not think what we are doing is wrong.  If we do not think that what we are doing is wrong, then we can’t repent.  If we can’t repent, especially as spiritual leaders, then we are in a world of hurt, and the ministry that God has called us to will never be as effective as it could be.

Another excuse to get rid of is the whole “they’re not naked so it’s not porn” or “it’s not porn, it’s art” argument.  The bottom line is that no matter what form it takes, if it stimulates someone sexually, it’s porn.

2. Be cautious with your time – The temptation to look at porn grows exponentially when we are bored or stressed.  Stay focused on the tasks at hand, and if you find yourself getting stressed or bored, make sure you are not alone (you are much less likely to look at porn if someone else is around)

3. Find accountability – This is one battle that you cannot fight alone.  I’ve spoken with countless Christians that felt if they just prayed harder and read the Bible more they could overcome their problem with porn, however in every single instance this strategy failed.  The only way these people found victory was through honest accountability with another believer.  I am convinced that one of the devil’s biggest weapons is secrecy.  Admitting your problem to someone else brings the issue out of the darkness and into the light where it can be dealt with.  An accountability partner is someone who will ask the hard questions and be there to help you through times of temptation.

I must admit that accountability can be a tough issue with most pastors.  Who can we go to for accountability?  For obvious reasons it is not a wise idea to go to someone in your church.  Unless you have a VERY strong marriage I also do not recommend going to your spouse for accountability.  So, where can we go?  This is where the power of prayer comes in.  Scripture is clear that if we need wisdom, ask God.  Trust the Holy Spirit to reveal to you who would make a good accountability partner.

4. Install filtering/accountability software – There are many content filtering/accountability packages on the market, and although they are not foolproof it is a good idea to have one installed.  I recommend K9 Web Protection, a free content filter, and X3Watch, an accountability program with both free and paid options.

When it comes to the topic of pornography, it’s not a question of if I’m going to deal with it, but how I’m going to deal with it.  Statistically speaking, you have probably already failed a few times.  Fortunately, the grace and mercy of God is there for us, but we still must come up with a plan of action.

How can we as pastors insure we do not fall into the trap of pornography addiction? What are some helpful strategies you have used? Why do you think this issue is so often ignored in churches?  Leave a comment below.

Moral Failure part 1

April 2, 2012

In my last post I mentioned the fact that 1,500 pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention within the church.  I don’t know about you, but I find these numbers to be pretty scary!  Here we are in a world that is lost and dying, yet those of us who are supposed to be leading the charge and training up others for the works of the ministry appear to be dropping like flies.  This is unacceptable and has to stop.  In my next few posts I will be dealing with this issue on the Rural Ministry blog.  Today I want to specifically address the issue of moral failure.

Moral failure can be defined in several ways.  There’s the obvious issue of adultery (or fornication for our unmarried readers), but it doesn’t stop there.  Moral failure also includes things like inappropriate non-sexual relationships and pornography.  None of us entered the ministry planning on having a moral failure.  In fact, I bet the vast majority of us even stated that it would never happen to us.  The first thing we must do to insure it never happens to us is to admit that it could happen to us.  I can’t begin to tell you how many couples I’ve spoken with in the past that were dealing with the issue of adultery that said “I never thought I could do something like that.”  We must realize that, given the right set of circumstances, anyone is capable of anything.

How do we protect ourselves against adultery?  There is one thing necessary for someone to commit adultery – opportunity.  If you eliminate the possibility of opportunity, you virtually eliminate the possibility of adultery.  This, however, is easier said than done.  I’ve heard many pastors say that they are never alone with members of the opposite sex that they are not related to.  While in theory I agree with this concept completely, reality can often times be different.  If you are in a large church, with multiple staff members and set office hours, this can be fairly easy to accomplish.  In rural ministry, however, we do not always have the luxury of staff members and office hours can be sporadic.  Even if we do have staff, that does not mean that they are always present.  I am fortunate enough to have an associate pastor and a secretary, yet there have been many times that I have been alone at church when a woman walks in.  Sometimes it’s someone needing to talk, sometimes it’s a church volunteer coming to do work, sometimes my associate pastor is out and it’s just me and my secretary.  So even though I do my best to avoid being alone with females, on occasion it happens.

So what do we do?  How do we make sure that we do not fail in this area?  Here is a list of suggestions:

1. Make sure you have a strong marriage.  I have spoken with many people over the years that have committed adultery.  In almost every instance, the person had a need that was not being met by their spouse.  That person then started to have that need met by someone else and suddenly things started to progress.  What started out as something seemingly innocent ended up in adultery.  Quite frankly, if my emotional and physical needs are being met by my spouse, I will not have the need or the desire to go anywhere else.  If you are concerned about your marriage, please do your family, your ministry, and yourself a favor by getting help.  If you do not know where to turn, contact me and I can help you find the resources you need.

2. Don’t be stupid. This may sound harsh, but it is a valid warning.  Even though we realize that being alone with a member of the opposite sex is sometimes unavoidable, we also need to be smart about these situations.  Do not purposely seek out a situation in which you will be alone with a member of the opposite sex.  If it happens, it happens, but do not intentionally cause this situation.  Doing so is just simply asking for trouble.

3. Listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit. This may seem obvious, but all too often we can get swept up in the moment and forget to listen to the Holy Spirit.  Only the Holy Spirit knows who is innocently seeking advice and who might have ulterior motives.  Only the Holy Spirit knows which people are emotionally needy and will get an unhealthy attachment to you.  Stay sensitive to the Holy Spirit and respond accordingly to any cautions and warnings.

4. Stay accountable. I try to keep my wife informed when I have met with a female alone.  I tell her who it was, when it was, where it was, and generally the content of our conversation.  I know that some of you are thinking “but what about confidentiality?” In situations like this, I inform the female ahead of time that I will be sharing our conversation with my wife, and only my wife.  I’ve never had anyone complain about that policy, but if I did, I am not sure that I would continue the conversation

One final caution: We need to remember that all it takes is suspicion, not proof, to ruin our reputation.  Do not allow yourself to be put in a situation where suspicions could rise.

How about you – what guidelines have you put in place to avoid moral failure?  Leave a comment below.

Rural Resource – Balance Beam Video

February 20, 2012

Each Monday on the Rural Ministry Blog I post a book review, article link, website link, video, or any other type of resource that I think would be of interest to the Rural Ministry community.

Today’s Rural Resource is a video clip from Francis Chan called Balance Beam.  In this video Francis challenges us to stop playing it safe.  This is a real issue in Rural Ministry.  Way too often we go with what’s safe instead of doing what will make the most impact in the Kingdom of God.  You can watch the video here:

URL – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LA_uwWPE6lQ

This video makes a great sermon illustration or discussion starter.  To download it  simply go to http://www.keepvid.com and paste the URL into the download box.  After about 45 seconds the download links will appear.  My suggestion would be to right click on the .MP4 link and choose “save as.”  Once you have downloaded the video you can convert it to any other video format by using the Any Video Converter software featured in this Freebie Friday article.

What do you think about Francis’ message?  In what areas are you currently playing it safe?  Leave a comment below.

Disclaimer: The books, videos and articles mentioned on the Rural Ministry Blog are things that I feel contain content relevant to the Rural Ministry community.  This does not necessarily mean that I fully embrace or support everything that the author embraces or supports.  For more information on this topic please read this Rural Ministry blog post – Eat the Meat and Spit Out the Bones

Your Safety Comes First

February 16, 2012

Fire helmetI’ve been involved in volunteer Fire and EMS (Emergency Medical Services) since I was a teenager. This has allowed me a very natural way to become part of my community and I am currently serving our local volunteer fire department as the first assistant chief as well as being an EMT with the ambulance. It is often said in Fire and EMS that your own safety must come first. It’s very easy to focus only on the immediate problem at hand and forget about looking for potential hazards. It’s natural to look only at the victim trapped in the wrecked car and not see the live electrical lines from the broken utility pole lying nearby. It’s natural to see only the burning building and ignore the propane tank that could possibly explode. If I do not look for, and take action against, possible dangers, then I myself could become a victim. If I become a victim, then that means I cannot help whomever it was that I came to help. If I become a victim, that also means the resources that were intended to help someone else now need to be used to help me. If I want to be an effective firefighter, then I must make sure that my own safety comes first.

The same thing could easily be said for those of us in rural ministry. Our own safety must come first if we wish to help those around us. Obviously we don’t have to worry about live electrical lines or exploding propane tanks, but there are hazards that are just as real and potentially just as dangerous. Recent statistics show that approximately 1,500 pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention within the church. These issues are very preventable, as long as they are recognized and dealt with properly. The problem is that we can sometimes be so focused on the crisis at hand that we do not realize the dangers and run the risk of becoming victims ourselves.

When we become victims, we cannot help those to whom we are called to help. When we become victims, resources that were intended to help others must now be used to help us. And unlike many instances in Fire and EMS, the consequences of us as rural ministers becoming victims often leads to negative eternal consequences for those we are supposed to help. It is paramount that we take the necessary steps to insure our own safety while we fulfill God’s call on our life.

None of us entered the ministry thinking that we would have a moral failure or burn out, yet it’s happening to 1,500 of us each month. Of course we never think it will happen to us, it’s always the “other pastor.” One of the first things we must realize is that we are not infallible. That the laws of life and ministry apply to us just as much as the next pastor. Over the next three weeks we will be taking a look at the big three safety hazards of pastors (moral failure, burn out, and contention within the church) and what we can do to effectively deal with these problems.

I know that the whole concept of “your safety comes first” seems to contradict what we’ve always been taught. I’m sure all of us have heard at one time or another the lesson on J.O.Y. Which, of course, stands for Jesus, Others, You. If I put my own safety first, does that mean that I’m putting myself before others? Not at all. I would argue that in order to consistently put others before ourselves that we must put our safety first. We must make sure that our emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being is where it needs to be before we can ever hope to effectively serve others.

What about you? What potential dangers do you see in your ministry and what steps can be taken to avoid them? Leave a comment below.

Rural Resource – 10 Small Church Strategies

February 13, 2012

Each Monday on the Rural Ministry Blog I post a book review, article link, website link, video, or any other type of resource that I think would be of interest to the Rural Ministry community.

Today’s Rural Resource is an article from Outreach Magazine that, in my opinion, has been needed for a very long time.  When I read the opening line I knew that this was an article that I would enjoy:

“There are countless numbers of websites and blogs out there dedicated to helping churches realize the potential of developing a strategy for effective ministry. Unfortunately, there is a curious shortage of strategies that can be easily implemented by a small church with limited resources.

Nathan Rice, the author of the article, does a great job listing 10 things small churches with limited resources can do to increase their effectiveness.  You can read the article by clicking here:

http://www.outreachmagazine.com/features/4109-Small-Church-Strategies-Big-Church-World.html

Which of the 10 things listed can you start implementing?  Can you think of anything else to add to the list?  Leave a comment below.